Float is a fun summer read about boys being boys, but some of the reviewers had a problem with that.
The protagonist of Float, by Laura Martin (HarperCollins, 2018) is a 13-year-old boy classified as a RISK—that is, one who is afflicted with Recurring Incidents of the Strange Kind. Emerson is RISK Category 5 because of his tenuous relationship with gravity: unless anchored by iron shoes and a weighted vest, he could float up to the stratosphere and no one would ever see him again. Now that he’s become a teenager he’s advised to attend Camp Outlier, a two-month government-sponsored program for other RISK-y kids. There he meets Hank, who turns invisible without warning; Anthony, who spontaneously combusts; Gary, who sticks (and has a bad attitude), and Zeke the X-ray vision kid, along with Zeke’s service animal, a de-scented skunk. Murphy is the most mysterious of the lot. He time-travels, and one of his unexpected jaunts into the future reveals a danger that will drive the plot and mold the misfits into a band of brothers.
It’s good clean fun, or clean enough. Moms may object to the unabashed boy-ness of it, manifested in potty humor, bare butts, jokey cross-dressing and an obsession with girl campers and French kissing. (The kissing is probably a euphemism for what boys this age would normally be obsessing about.)
The boys display some virtues too, like inventiveness, initiative, and overcoming their differences to form a team and help each other. What I found interesting, though, was one reviewer’s response to all this. Booklist and School Library Journal gave glowing reviews, but the Kirkus reviewer’s enjoyment of Float was tainted by its patriarchal assumptions. “Although the boys occasionally interact with a cabin of girls, the female characters come across as props in a world where heterosexuality is an unquestioned norm.” The last I looked, that’s the world we live in—unless one happens to be a Kirkus reviewer. “Overall, a retrograde sense of masculinity overshadows what might otherwise be a story about finding kinship and self-confidence.” But—but—masculinity is what provides the kinship and self-confidence. These boys identify as boys, and lucky for them because it gives them a context and platform to build on. Finally, “The plot may be about changing the future, but the patriarchal themes in this action story are stuck in the past.”
Kirkus can be a little quirky this way–the first review journal that consistently identifies major characters in children’s novels by race. This particular reviewer may be right about social change, even though I disagree with her terminology. I think of “patriarchal” as men dominating women, but we don’t see that in Float. The girls are in no way harassed or intimidated; instead they are admired from afar, and they seem fully capable of holding their own. If it were their story they would undoubtedly come across as more than “props.” But what the reviewer means by patriarchy, apparently, is simply boys acting like boys. Is that a thing of the past? We’d better hope not, but increased hand-wringing over “toxic masculinity” may result in Men without Chests.
Cautions: Mild vulgarity, as mentioned in the review
Overall rating: 3.75
- Worldview/moral value: 3.5
- Artistic value: 4